Friday, September 01, 2017

The Desperate Citizenship of the Christian

Martin Luther spoke of two kingdoms, which at least in the way it has gotten worked out, allowed Christians to compartmentalize their two citizenships. It's easy to do. But it's easy to confuse the two, so that merge citizenship in the nation with citizenship in the realm of God. Thus, if you're a good American, you're a good Christian (or something like that). historically, there has often been a battle between church and state as to who will have the upper-hand in the partnership. We see this most famously in the ongoing dispute between Pope Gregory VII and the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, in the 11th century. Both Pope and Emperor sought to depose the other. While Gregory seems to have gotten the upper hand, the conflict between powers didn't end there. 


I'm reading (and will review) Willie James Jennings Belief Commentary on Acts, and he speaks of Paul as the "citizen-disciple." The kind of citizenship Paul makes use of in his tangles with the law is, in Jennings view, a "desperate citizenship," which doesn't "take citizenship lightly, but presses it to its absolute limits to perform the good for the sake  of Jesus Christ." This is a different kind of citizenship from that of the elites, for whom "citizenship is only an embroidery to their existence. It only adds to their strength and aids the accomplishing of their desires." If I understand Jennings correctly, such citizenship serves one's own needs and desires, without any concern for others or for God's creation. (Jennings, Acts, p. 206)

In contrasting our heavenly citizenship with our earthly citizenship, Jennings makes this important point, that I think we might want to hear at this moment in time, when we can easily be tempted to align to closely with the powers at be (either on right or the left, or even in the center). He speaks of our "heavenly citizenship enabling us to "risk everything for the sake of the gospel, pressing the inner logics of every nation toward good ends for the sake of a suffering creation" (Acts, p. 225). It is here, I think that the premise I've argued for in Ultimate Allegiance comes into play. In that book I've suggested that the Lord's Prayer serves as a pledge of allegiance to the realm of God, which transcends our allegiance to nation and tribe. But that doesn't keep us from engagement in the world, but it does frame it differently. 

So, here is what Jennings writes, which that I think we should take heed of:
Our heavenly citizenship translates in the here and now into desperate citizenship in the fleeting realities of worldly politics. So while some work for the welfare of the empire, we work in empires for the welfare of God's creation. Christians can easily get this confused by forgetting that the ends of an empire are not our ends, its dream not our dream, and its circle of concerns always smaller than our concerns. Our citizenship should be characterized by an urgency not born of the needs of the nation, but the witness of God's redeeming love. [Jennings, Acts, p. 226-227].
For those of us who claim American citizenship, it's not "America First." It's the realm of God first, and if we pursue that end then love rather than the need for power will be our guide.  This is what means to exercise desperate citizenship.

No comments: